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Emotions settled, Penguins ready for Gateway opener



Published: Wed, September 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Defending champion Western Illinois comes to Stambaugh Stadium on Saturday night.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

YOUNGSTOWN -- Bob Sivik sat in his Mentor home last Saturday and thought about the ultimate scenario:

The Youngstown State football team playing in front of 30,000 fans at Toledo's Glass Bowl and gaining national attention by winning.

When the clock struck 7 p.m., Sivik wondered. Like every other American, the Penguins' senior linebacker had been inundated with endless pictures and stories of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.

But for that moment, he thought about football.

"I was watching TV and just thinking, 'We could be playing Toledo right now,' " Sivik said.

Still, he knew it couldn't happen. He knew the focus of his teammates was not there, the intensity lacking.

"Our minds weren't in the right places," he said of last week. "It felt a little odd being out there seeing the guys not real intense, because of the terrible tragedy."

Time does heal wounds, albeit slowly.

"We're going to rise above this terrorist stuff and get our minds back again," Sivik said.

That process has already begun.

Concentration returns: Youngstown State has returned to the practice field with its mind still on the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy, but its eye on Western Illinois.

The Penguins open the Gateway Football Conference season Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium, with the kickoff against the defending champion set for 7 p.m.

"It's been difficult the last week," Youngstown State coach Jon Heacock said. "Emotionally, we were a little bit drained.

"Our guys are back trying to work through it," he said, "just like we all are."

Youngstown State won its first two games of the season -- over Division II opponents Lock Haven (38-7) and Clarion (44-0) -- setting a perfect stage for Toledo, a tune-up game for the Gateway season.

But after the terrorist attacks, the Youngstown State-Toledo game was among those nationwide involving Division I schools to be canceled.

Tuesday at his weekly press luncheon in the DeBartolo Stadium Club, Heacock downplayed the cancellation and its effect on his team's Gateway opener.

"The tragedy that happened and the respect needed to be paid for those folks overrides all things," Heacock said.

The events that have transpired in America will continue to change the way people live.

Will Youngstown State football players be wary this season of air travel involving games at Northern Iowa, Indiana State and Southern Illinois?

"I'm sure there are some people that are afraid of that now, but that's something we'll have to deal with," senior quarterback Jeff Ryan said. "It might be safer to fly now than it ever was."

Sivik said, "There's going to be a lot more security now than ever before."

Security in the air. Security of the mind. They both help Youngstown State football return to normal.

richesson@vindy.com




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